WelCom July 2019:
The parish of St Francis of Assisi, Ohariu, Wellington, is moving from a well-known model that relies heavily on the presence of a priest, towards becoming more obviously the People of God on mission. John Lawson, a member of the parish Leadership Formation Team, explains.
In the parish of St Francis of Assisi, Ohariu, we are trying to live the Gospel. While there is nothing contentious or difficult about that, it isn’t easy in a time of turmoil – not for the individuals mandated by our Cardinal, John Dew, to lead the parish. And perhaps even less so for the fellow parishioners they seek to serve.
In December 2018 John wrote to our parish to advise because of the fall in the number of available priests he was unable to provide the parish with a full-time Diocesan parish priest. Our parish was now to be served by a team of lay people and a single priest administrator in a part-time role.
This group was mandated to lead the parish in a new model of collaboration involving:
- the Society of Mary; and
- the Wellington Archdiocese.
The Society of Mary would provide the priest administrator on a part-time basis. Other Marist priests would assist with sacramental and pastoral care but not with the purpose of maintaining the status quo. The Marists want to work collaboratively with lay people to build a new model of church. This new model would reflect the increasing unavailability of priests. Moreover, it would nurture and promote the formation of competent and open-minded Catholic lay people as adult disciples of Christ.
A new model does not mean parish life comes to a halt. The leadership’s immediate goal has been to ensure – for the time being at least – existing parish services and ministries are maintained. Our parish life has continued smoothly, due mainly to the faith-filled, selfless and dedicated commitment of the people in our ministries; and to the little-known group of parishioners who meet weekly to pray specifically for our parish and its community.
It too early to assess our progress, let alone the success or otherwise. But, already a number of things have been learned and needs discerned.
Formation and conversion – a huge need for formation of our people, including its lay leadership. These needs have become apparent as we face existing realities and the inevitable changed circumstances of our future. They arise at the deepest levels of our being and can only be satisfied by good theology and spirituality – we need to be fed!
- Outreach – an urgent need to look outside of ourselves to the wider community and the world. This will require imagination, creativity, adaptability and courage as we try new and bold initiatives. It will involve risk and even mistakes. It will also bring about conversion and new life in ourselves and those we encounter.
- Mission – questions have been asked. Where are we going? What is our mission? While we are clear our ultimate goal is to live the Gospel, the specifics of a parish mission statement are yet to be discussed, identified and adopted by our community.
- Ministries – a need to preserve and supplement existing ministries and to identify new ways of serving the community and the world – new wine skins for new wine.
- Schools – we have two vibrant, extensive, productive communities in our parish’s schools. The strengthening and renewal of the connections between the wider community and the schools has begun and shows wonderful potential.
- Prayer – we are convinced prayer needs to be the centre of our parish life. There are existing parish prayer groups. Others could be formed and encouraged. Personal prayer, spirituality and understanding of Scripture need formation and support.
- Resources – our parish is of this world. We need to manage our material goods and personnel responsibly, using good business skills as well as Gospel values.
The main point of difference about these conclusions is that within the collaborative model people have now seized these challenges with a new independence and accompanying responsibility. The old hierarchical structure, successful for its time, is fading and with it much of the order, discipline and certainty it provided. In its place we are turning again with renewed emphasis to Gospel values and openness to the Holy Spirit. There is no better register against which to order our lives. It was the register used by the early Church.
In due course, the new collaborative model will be assessed by its fruits as shown by a community that is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.
Further information can be found at www.stfrancisohariu.nz